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Prithvi Nath Bhatt, Delhi

Kashmir is surrounded by high mountains of the Pir Panjal range on all sides. Due to heavy snowfall and difficult passes, it used to remain cut off from the outer world for about nine months of the year. Two roads, one from west and the other from north-west, approached it. The former was known as the salt route and it passed through Poonch and Rajouri on the other side and through Poshun (Pushen of Raj Tarangini), Kellar, Romooh (Romosh of Rajtarangini), Damodar high lands (Damodar Udar) and thence to Srinagar. The other road passed through Rawalpindi, Kohala, Uri, Baramulla (Varamoola of Rajtaringini) and thence to Srinagar. The latter road became known as the Jhelum valley Road during the Dogra rule while the former was known as Banihal Cart Road.

Kashmiris could not go on a pilgrimage to the sacred places in India due to geographical and climatic conditions. If they ever ventured to do so, most of them either perished during the long and perilous journey or did not return at all. This made the people to establish most of the places of worship in Kashmir itself, except, of course, Ayodhya, Mathura and the four Dhams established by Shankracharya himself. Stories and legends were woven around these places of worship so that the people's faith and devotion did not waver or diminish. Kings and Queens also built temples and Viharas where people thronged to worship them. Kapalmochan of Nagbal (Digam, Shopian), Swami Amarnath and Martand (Bhavan, Anantnag) are the only places of worship which do not exist outside Kashmir.

Kashmir has been the seat of Shaivism and Trika philosophy. Therefore, the places of worship of Shiva and His consort Parvati are almost at every place in Kashmir, though Sikander (1389-1413 AD) the iconoclast, did not spare even sacred places of Hindus in Kashmir in the 14th century when he, at the instigation of Amir Kabir of Hamdan, massacered Kashmiri Hindus in thousands at their resistance to conversion into Islam. Now, at almost 90 percent of such sacred places stand mosques, Khankahas and graveyards. Malla Khah and Jama Masjid of Srinagar are glaring examples of such tyranny.

Out of so many places of worship, Gudar is no less important in any way. It is situated on the Gudar tull, which lies at a distance of four kilometers to the South-West of Kulgam, named after Kulwageshwari on the right bank of Veshav (Vishoka of Nilmatpurana). The village on the hill is also known as Gudar.

Gudar hill, about 300 feet above ground is a part of the Southern Pirpanchal range. On its back high, snow-covered mountains arise forming a very beautiful background. Beyond those is the Udhampur district of Jammu Province.

There is a small spring above Gudar village in the midst of a large number of pine trees and the rock having the formation of a cow's mouth through which water flows down into a pool. This is the Gudar tirtha of great importance. It's water flows down the hill to meet the Veshav river at the foot of the hill. This confluence of the two waters is called the Sangam where a pilgrimage is made after every twelve years like the one held at Haridwar, Allahabad etc.

Gudar is a small village of sixty odd houses, five of which belong to Kashmiri Pandits and the rest to the Muslims. The village is situated at 75.10 longitude and 33.60 latitude. It was a part of Devsar (Devsaras) Pargana before becoming a part of the present Kulgam tehsil.

Godavari Mahatmya narrates the appearance of the Godavari on earth as follows :

"Rishi Gautam prayed to Mahadevi (the consort of Shiva) for the water of the Ganga. She was pleased at the penance of the saint and appeared before him. She rent the Gudar hill, water oozed out. The spring as well as the brook formed by its water became known as Godawari. Ever since, this place became tirtha of great fame.

Kalhana in his Rajtarangini also makes a mention of this sacred place as under :

King Surendra built a Vihar called Saurasa, present Chorus in Pulwama district. This King died without an issue. Godara, the scion of another family, became the King and protected the earth with finest of the mountains. He bestowed the agrahara (Jagir) of Godhara-Hastshilla on brahmins. After him his son Survarna brought the Suvarnamani the present Sonaman canal to Karol (Karol-Vaishya pargana), the present Adwin Pargana.

So the present Godhavari or Gudar is a very ancient place of worship built between 620-70 Laukik Samvat or 2450-2500 B.C. approximately. Close to the west of the village, the Veghav is joined by the water of the Gudar spring and is known Sangam. At this confluance, the pilgrim bathe and worship Goddess Godawari. By bathing, all the sins are believed to be washed away and the pilgrim receives the benefit of Gopardan (cows given in alms).

According to a local tradition, King Godara founded a town at Gindar. M. A. Stein could not find any remains of it when he visited the place in 1891 A.D.

Hastishala of Rajtarangini is the present Asthel village on the right bank of the Veghav just below the Gudar village across Hanad Chawalgam. Here Muslims and Rajputs (Mias) live even to the present day.

Godavari means the land of cows. It was a meadow where cows tended as the hill had dense forests which has now been denuded by the residents. The land so acquired has been transformed into orchards of apple & walnut trees that have been a source of good income to the villagers.

Gudar village is reached on foot or horseback as there is no motorable road.

Nilmatpurana also makes a mention of Gudar when King Nila enumerates the famous places of worship to Kashmir to Brahmin Chandradeva. It says :

The Gudar pilgrimage is made after every 12 years. It starts on the first of Navratra of Chetra month (lunar) and ends on Chaitra Poornamashi (full moon) the next year. The pilgrimage is not made every day but on Thursdays only just as pilgrimage is made on Sundays after every three years of Malmasa-Banamasa at Matan (Bhavan or Martand) near Anantnag. It is presumed that Godavari might have appeared on a Thursday.

Pilgrims ascend the Gudar hill through the Gudar village to reach the holy spring. They smear the mouth of the cow through which water comes out of the rock, with Sindoor. After prayers they shower flowers with grains of rice and barley. They burn dhoop and agarbatis to inccense the place. They drink water from the pool and after making a round (parikrama) come down the hill on the left side to reach the sangam down below. There they bathe at the ghat and perform Shradha Kriyas of the dead. They keep a fast that day. By ascending from the left and coming down beyond the Gudar spring, a full parikrama (circulatory walk) is made of the "tirtha".

Gudar tirtha was last done in 1993 of the past century after the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, their ancestral home.

In 1954 Swami Laxman Joo, his sister and Sharika Devi made pilgrimage of Gudar after staying at Pt. Sat Lal Wali's house at Hanad Chawalgam.

Gurdar has lost its religious importance now as the Kashmiri Pandits living in far and near villages of the tirtha have almost left for safe places of Jammu and other parts of India due to militancy over there. There are a few Kashmiri Pandits still living in Thusoo, Manzgam, Damhal-Hanjipora, Kakran, Begom, Hanadchawalgam, Kulgam, Chowgam, Devsar etc. Some Rajput (Mia) families live in Nandmarag, Chogulpora, Mirhama, Asthel, Tengbal and Malvan. Can they now muster courage to perform pilgrimage of Gudar? What a great tragedy?

The author is an educationalist, Kashmiri language scholar, poet and writer. He has translated Nila Mat Purana into Kashmiri.

Mailing Address : 1694, Kong Posh, Jain Nagar, Karala, Delhi-81

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